Fireboys, written and directed by Drew Dickler and Jake Hochendoner, centers on three particular individuals who happen to be incarcerated: Chuy Hernandez, Alex Bailon, and Dominiq Porter. They volunteer for the Pine Grove Fire Camp to reduce their time behind bars and learn real-world skills that will be valuable when they are released from prison. In order to make the fire crew, the three young men have to display good behavior, go through training which includes a timed hike while carrying fire equipment, and learn how to work as a team. Mind you, these 18 to 20-year-olds were once young kids that came off of the streets committing crimes, sometimes of a violent nature.
The documentary brings up many great points about the way rehabilitation centers do not exactly do much actual rehabilitation for their inmates. Many can debate on and on if inmates deserve second chances. The quick answer to that is yes, people can change, and the possibility of change increases when more support and positive reinforcement are given. For instance, two of the young men make the fire crew. Their hard work earned them the spot of being on the team. Once Chuy Hernandez is released from prison, he is excited to start his journey to becoming a fire captain. Well, that excitement was quickly diminished when he finds out that his prior convictions keep him from ever getting close to his dreams.
In 2020 California passed a bill that allows formerly incarcerated firefighters to have their records expunged so that they can join Cal Fire, as long as they were not put away for violent crimes. This is a great start at helping these young men get a second chance at life and helps California, which is in desperate need of firefighters due to the constant wildfires that threaten homes and the environment.
“…volunteer for the Pine Grove Fire Camp to reduce their time behind bars…”
Another issue brought up in Fireboys is the pay these men get while working on the fire crews. They get anywhere from $2 to $4 an hour. One side of the argument is that these men are in jail and should be happy to be paid at all, but the other side is that these young men are doing a perilous job, and they should be rewarded greater for it. A firefighter can make about 20 dollars an hour, and I think they are underpaid considering the job they have to do daily. It is a bigger issue than appears because when you have first responders, teachers, and other selfless professionals struggling to pay rent while you have athletes making millions upon millions of dollars, there is something wrong. I like sports just as much as the next person, but things should be reconsidered.
The filmmakers capture the highs and lows of these former felons and their hopes of a more fulfilling career and life with great respect for their subjects. For example, when one of the three men talks about how he is seen now as a hero, not a criminal, there’s a real emotional resonance to his elation that the viewers deeply feel. The cinematography is also quite striking, as we witness the fire crews training or out on missions to save lives, and we see the vast beauty of the California landscapes as well as the devastations these fires have wrought.
Fireboys opens your eyes to the prison system, attempts at rehabilitation, and what it truly takes to help someone change for the better. As much as I do not condone criminals acts of any kind, sometimes people are just young, dumb, and made a mistake. We grow from our mistakes, or at least we should be able to and should be given a chance to do so.
"…opens your eyes to the prison system, attempts at rehabilitation, and what it truly takes to help someone change for the better."